Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series of articles from some of the most established, respected members of the DLF forum. These articles may not always reflect the opinions the DLF staff, but they will always be high quality & thought provoking, and are intended to provide a platform for sharing the insights and opinions from some of the best ffb minds around. Enjoy! – DLF Staff
With the expected return of a healthy Jermichael Finley, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers add another weapon to their already impressive arsenal. In limited time as a starter in the 2009 season, Finley recorded 55 receptions and five touchdowns. Through four games in 2010 he was already at 21 catches and team-leading 301 yards before leaving with a torn meniscus.
As we all know, the injury forced him to be placed on IR and he watched his team go on to win the Super Bowl in early February. He also watched the Packers struggle to replace his productivity at the TE position, relying on a combination of Andrew Quarless (21 receptions, 283 yards, one touchdown) and Donald Lee (11 receptions, 73 yards, three touchdowns).
The Packers went more to five-wide sets and three-RB sets to create mismatches for the defense. That led to James Jones and Jordy Nelson having their most productive seasons of the career, as well as Greg Jennings having a bounce-back season from last year. In fact, Jennings had arguably the best season of his career, matching his career high in touchdowns (12) to go with over 1,200 yards.
Over the last few weeks there’s been quite a bit of talk and several articles around the Internet suggesting that Jennings’ fantasy value will take a hit with the return of Jermichael Finley. I’m of the opinion that in actuality it may be quite the opposite. I could point to several examples around the league where having a great receiving Tight End helps wide receiver production, such as Gates’ effect on Vincent Jackson, Witten’s effect on Miles Austin, or Clark’s effect on Reggie Wayne.
My point is, Finley returning to the Packers offense should be a welcoming sight to Jennings and his fantasy owners. When the Packers have four or less receivers on the field, he consistently receives the extra attention from the safety over the top, which is one of the reason they started experimenting with the five-wide set. Finley has that same effect on a defense – when he’s in the lineup, the deep safety has a tendency to creep up to take away the seam route while the strong safety is confined to either supporting the run or taking away the slot receiver. Either way, Jennings should see similar man-to-man coverage that he saw this season when they were in their five-wide formation.
I know what you’re thinking. “If Finley comes back healthy and ends up catching around 80 balls for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns, whose stats will he be taking away?” The answer: Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson. While the additional use of the five-wide formation allowed the Packers to exploit mismatches, there isn’t the same need for it when Finley is on the field. Having his athleticism at the TE position allows them to use more traditional sets while still having an advantage over the defense.
All in all, I believe that Greg Jennings’ stats will be very similar to his 2010 season, albeit coming in an entirely different fashion. If I had to predict a stat line for him, I would call for a slight increase in receptions and yards and a slight decrease in touchdowns due to fewer targets in the red zone. I think the “loser” in Finley’s return are the receivers who won’t see as many snaps in the upcoming season. I think the Packers will re-sign Jones, who is a free agent going into the offseason to solidify the WR3 position, and will have Nelson back as the WR4.
I would expect a big season from Finley if he can stay healthy and another solid season from Jennings as well. If I’m a James Jones or Jordy Nelson owner, I’m tempering my expectations until Driver finally retires. If I’m still a Donald Driver owner, I am selling him for anything I can get.